Thursday, March 29, 2007

Sequels, trilogies, and series - oh my! PART I

So the other night The Boy (also a writer) and I were discussing series books. You know, sequels, trilogies, etc. It all started when I mentioned to him reading on Justine's blog about interviews with Norton nominees. In one of the interviews, Susan Beth Pfeffer announced she just finished writing another book set in the same world as her book Life as We Knew It (except this new one is in NYC).

We all know from my recent post that I loved that book and therefore it follows that this was pretty exciting news to me. I mean, I thought this was a neat world. It's all about what happens when the moon is knocked a little closer to the Earth causing all sorts of problems: floods, out of control tides, economic failures, earthquakes, etc etc. Juicy survival stuff.

So I was excited to share this news with The Boy which started a whole conversation/debate over series books. My whole thing is that I think it's pretty neat to create a world and then make it withstand the tests of other stories. I mean, creating a world for one story is hard. Then making that world sustain another story and still work, and still have the rules of that world stay consistant, that's pretty cool. His whole thing is that he thinks that too many writers are jumping on the series bandwagon and aren't turning their creative juices to creating new and cool worlds and that we as readers lose out.

Now, I must admit that I have a personal stake in this argument. After all, I've been playing around in a world that The Boy created and I've come up with a sequel idea to my current WIP (gotta think of such things now so that I can plant the seeds). So I like the idea of sequels cause... uh... I'm plotting one. One would think that The Boy would feel similarly since he's already started a short story/novella/novel set in the same world. Hey, it's a big world. And pretty neat too.

Anyway, I think his main point is that he doesn't mind series books, but he just feels like every single author is jumping on the bandwagon. That it's a given. A must these days. So I thought about the books I've been reading. Twilight (first of three). The Rest Falls Away (book one of the Gardella Vampire Chronicles). Magic or Madness (book one of the Magic or Madness trilogy).

I have my own thoughts about this, but must give some attention to the dog at this moment. Y'all comment away on the blog and I'll finish up my thoughts soon. Do you think this is a trend? If so, why do you think it's more prevalant these days?

Oh, and as an aside, we decided that there are basically two ways to go about a series. The first is one where it's basically one book split into many. He cites Lord of the Rings as an example. The other are loosly related books that each stand on their own but are in the same world. He cited Sword of Shannara books as examples. Do y'all agree?


Erica Ridley said...

create a world and then make it withstand the tests of other stories

God, I hope this is still a viable idea, because it's what *I'm* doing with Nether-Netherland! Same world, standalone books.

Do I feel that's cheating readers? As a reader, I'd have to say no. I *like* returning to the same world. That's why books where the hero has forty-eight brothers (and each subsequent book is one of the brothers getting married off) work so well. Whether contemporary or old west or Regency or futuristic, readers love the world as well as the characters. IMHO, "Regency" is a world. I read those books because I like that world. If my favorite Regency authors never wrote two books in the same decade, I'd be like WTH?? and not be pleased.

That said. I am not against authors having *multiple* worlds. I cannot see myself writing NNL books until the day I die. I think about Sue Grafton, who's not only locked into a protagonist but also a 1980s pre-cellphone pre-Internet world. She didn't make it up when she started the series, but there are people reading her books now who weren't alive when the first ones came out. I have to wonder if she ever wishes she could start a different world. But if she cut it off here to start a new world--only halfway through the alphabet--I think readers would feel cheated. So I maybe disagree with him on that.

I think of "connected books" (same world, stand alone, no particular order, or at least, no order that matters) and "series books" (must read sequels in order to make sense, or at least for best flow of logic) as two vastly different things. But that's just me.

So anyway, yay on your sequel idea! Love it when that happens. =)

Patrick Alan said...

I agree on the two series types, but I think it goes even farther(and for the record, I think the series which are one book, tend to end poorly)

Some series are set in the same world, but are individual stories, yet use the same characters for each. -- Rowling, Goodkind, Weber, etc

Some series just keep the same world, yet use a new generation of characters each time. - Xanth, Saga of Recluse, etc

It's not really surprising that you find this in Fantasy and SF, as most readers are reading for setting and an epic plot.

You often find series in Mystery and Thriller where the character is the driving link. Alex Cross, Jason Bourne, Stephanie Plum, etc.

My point? I don't know. I'm feeling rather dull and pointless.

Anonymous said...

Technically there are far more than one type of series. You can have brother books - where the books basically stand on their own but have new characters and a different type of plot from the last story. This is what I predominantly write though my H/H often make guest appearances in the next book, they just aren't showcased.

There is a trilogy - trilogies by design involve aspects of maturity as you see in the Lord of the Rings. In the beginning the Quest is fresh and Frodo is somewhat naive - this changes throughout the stories which pick up where the last left off. Lord of the Rings is also the basic strategy for any quest.

There are continuations. These involve the same characters who are merely put into new circumstances. J.D. Robb writes this - it is personally not my favorite. I prefer a story to end at some point. Such as it did with Roger Zelazny's Amber Chronicles.

There are also sister stories which involve different characters but the same basic plot. Again, these are not my favorite since I like originality.

I could go on and on, but the making of a series is in essence, what the author makes of it.

Miri said...

I think, as T.J. Killian said, there are several ways to go about a series. Several of my favorite series don't quite fit into either of The Boy's descriptions. One is technically a trilogy, but the first book takes place fourteen years before the second book, and the second book ends maybe ten hours before the third book begins. The other is closer, but instead of one book split into three, it's one book split into six, and while a couple of those are pretty severe cliffhangers, each book has a definite beginning that separates it from the ending of the book before. (Is this making any sense?) I think it's interesting to note that both of these series--The Seventh Tower and the Abhorsen trilogy--are by the same author.

Anyway, I probably have a much higher tolerance for series than many others because I read mostly fantasy, and fantasy as a whole just tends more toward series rather than stand-alones. I know for the longest time I was strictly a one-world-per-author reader. If I'd read Tamora Pierce's Tortall stuff, I wasn't interested in her books set in the Circle world, and thus when she kept coming out with more quartets and the one duology set in Tortall, I ate them up. Now I've mellowed quite a bit as far as that goes and I'm much more author-loyal than world-loyal.

Back to the main point, I think it's fantastic to have multiple stories set in the same world, and even better to have multiple stories about the same characters--to a certain extent. I think the danger comes when you get so comfortable in your one world that you refuse to go into others, and the stories and characters start to get stale. That's when you're cheating the reader. In the hands of a good author, it could be dozens of books before that happens. In the hands of a bad author, I could read two books set in a certain world and never want to go back.

Diana Peterfreund said...

I don't tend to think of the Lord of the Rings books as being a "series" but really one book. Just one. They don't each have proper beginnings middles and endings. The same can be said of, say, Scott Westerfeld's adult space epic, or my critique partner CL Wilson's upcoming fantasy. They really aren't multiple books. They are multiple volumes of one book to give the binders/price point a break.

(I read LOTR in one physical "book.")

When I think of series, I tend to think of there being two different kinds: Open ended and closed ended. Harry Potter is a closed-ended series. there are seven. A lot of fantasy trilogies are like this. The books don't "stand on their own" in terms of back story and worldbuilding, but each book is structured as a complete story with a plot arc that belongs to that book and that alone. My series is a closed series.

Then there are open ended series. Sue Grafton (Yes, she may get to the end of the alphabet one day, but there's not necessarily a plan.) Janet Evanovitch's Stephanie Plum. Anita Blake.

I like closed-ended series better because there is a defined end beyond which you cannot go.

I think of what you are talking about with Life As We Knew It and your stories and The Boy's set in the same world are also not something I'd describe as series, but rather as companion books. They are set in the same world, but they are otherwise unconnected. I would classify (though I haven't read it, so who knows?) Scott Westerfeld's upcoming Extras as being a COMPANION piece to the Uglies trilogy, which was, in itself, a closed-ended series.

And even the so-called "brother books" of romance novel fame are series, since they usually take great pains to show the happy couple from the previous book. And those can be closed or open ended dependent on how much the author has planned out beforehand regarding overarching plots and how many long-lost brothers you could conceivably find. ;-) I was just talking to an author, in fact, who has a "brother" style series coming out and she has a definitive, plotted out overarching arc for every book she may get to write in the series.